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Meet Asia’s Saber-Toothed Deer

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Why grow antlers when you can have fangs? People normally associate “saber teeth” with bloodthirsty ice age cats, but a few modern critters also have them—including some rather docile herbivores.

Meet the musk deer family (aka: the Moschidae). To date, seven species have been identified, all of which hail from Asia—though the fossil record reveals that their prehistoric kin once roamed Europe and North America as well. Also, largely due to their lack of antlers, these guys aren’t technically considered deer, despite their common name.

In lieu of headgear, the animals have evolved some ferocious-looking canines. Males boast a pair of curved tusks protruding from their upper jaws, which are used to ward off rivals once mating season heats up. But it’s a very different anatomical feature that’s used for wooing the fairer sex.

“Musk” deer are so called because of an unusual gland located near the males’ hindquarters. These sacs secrete a pungent chemical that’s sprayed liberally throughout their territories. Females find the odor utterly tantalizing, and—sadly—so do poachers. Humans have long been using this substance, the potent scent of which is even documented in the Quran. Hailed a beguiling aphrodisiac and an effective medicinal ingredient, moschid musk is “one of the most valuable products in the natural kingdom and can be worth three times its weight in gold,” says conservationist Stuart Chapman. While it’s possible to “milk” live specimens, hunters prefer killing these animals before removing their glands entirely. Due to this regrettable practice, most species are now endangered.

Intriguingly, a completely different variety of fanged, deer-like mammal also resides in Asia. The Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis) is a beagle-sized herbivore that’s been known to swim for miles on end in search of food and shelter in the wetlands it calls home. During the 1800s, they were introduced to England and subsequently began spreading through the British countryside as well.

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Australian Charity Releases Album of Cat-Themed Ballads to Promote Feline Welfare
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An Australian animal charity is helping save the nation’s kitties one torch song at a time, releasing a feline-focused musical album that educates pet owners about how to properly care for their cats.

Around 35,000 cats end up in pounds, shelters, and rescue programs every year in the Australian state of New South Wales, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Microchipping and fixing cats, along with keeping closer tabs on them, could help reduce this number. To get this message out, the RSPCA’s New South Wales chapter created Cat Ballads: Music To Improve The Lives Of Cats.

The five-track recording is campy and fur-filled, with titles like "Desex Me Before I Do Something Crazy" and "Meow Meow." But songs like “I Need You” might tug the heartstrings of ailurophiles with lyrics like “I guess that’s goodbye then/but you’ve done this before/the window's wide open/and so’s the back door/you might think I’m independent/but you’d be wrong.” There's also a special version of the song that's specifically designed for cats’ ears, featuring purring, bird tweets, and other feline-friendly noises.

Together, the tunes remind us how vulnerable our kitties really are, and provide a timely reminder for cat owners to be responsible parents to their furry friends.

“The Cat Ballads campaign coincides with kitten season, which is when our shelters receive a significantly higher number of unwanted kittens as the seasons change,” Dr. Jade Norris, a veterinary scientist with the RSPCA, tells Mental Floss. “Desexing cats is a critical strategy to reduce unwanted kittens.”

Listen to a song from Cat Ballads below, and visit the project’s website for the full rundown.

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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
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Animals
Scientists Discover 'Octlantis,' a Bustling Octopus City
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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Octopuses are insanely talented: They’ve been observed building forts, playing games, and even walking on dry land. But one area where the cephalopods come up short is in the social department. At least that’s what marine biologists used to believe. Now a newly discovered underwater community, dubbed Octlantis, is prompting scientists to call their characterization of octopuses as loners into question.

As Quartz reports, the so-called octopus city is located in Jervis Bay off Australia’s east coast. The patch of seafloor is populated by as many as 15 gloomy octopuses, a.k.a. common Sydney octopuses (octopus tetricus). Previous observations of the creatures led scientists to think they were strictly solitary, not counting their yearly mating rituals. But in Octlantis, octopuses communicate by changing colors, evict each other from dens, and live side by side. In addition to interacting with their neighbors, the gloomy octopuses have helped build the infrastructure of the city itself. On top of the rock formation they call home, they’ve stored mounds of clam and scallop shells and shaped them into shelters.

There is one other known gloomy octopus community similar to this one, and it may help scientists understand how and why they form. The original site, called Octopolis, was discovered in the same bay in 2009. Unlike Octlantis, Octopolis was centered around a manmade object that had sunk to the seabed and provided dens for up to 16 octopuses at a time. The researchers studying it had assumed it was a freak occurrence. But this new city, built around a natural habitat, shows that gloomy octopuses in the area may be evolving to be more social.

If that's the case, it's unclear why such octo-cities are so uncommon. "Relative to the more typical solitary life, the costs and benefits of living in aggregations and investing in interactions remain to be documented," the researchers who discovered the group wrote in a paper published in Marine and Freshwater Behavior and Physiology [PDF].

It’s also possible that for the first time in history humans have the resources to see octopus villages that perhaps have always been bustling beneath the sea surface.

[h/t Quartz]

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